California State University East Bay

Baseball wins two at home

February 5, 2015

TAM DUONG JR./THE PIONEER

TAM DUONG JR./THE PIONEER

When a team wins 30 games in consecutive seasons it is usually considered a success.

However, for the Cal State East Bay men’s baseball team and fourth year Head Coach Bob Ralston, the last two seasons ended in disappointment as they just missed out on the Division II playoffs. The Pioneers are 62-36 over the past two seasons and the only thing missing is a postseason berth.

Only the top four teams from the California Collegiate Athletic Association Conference advance to the playoffs and for the past two seasons the Pioneers have found themselves in fifth place on the outside looking in.

“We have been playing really good team baseball and our record reflects that,” CSUEB Head Coach Bob Ralston said. “We have the second best overall record the past two seasons just behind Chico State and with this good group of returners we should only get better.”

CSUEB lost their top three starting pitchers from last season: Sean Becker, Nick Hudson, and Ben O’Bryan, which combined for 20 wins and 256 total innings on the mound.

The Pioneers will have to rely on senior right-hander Michael Pope, who has the most experience on a young revamped pitching staff. Pope finished last season 4-5 overall for Cal State East Bay, started 11 games, and pitched in 69 innings.

“We did lose some key pitchers but hopefully Pope will anchor our staff,” Ralston said. “He has been a good leader and we are expecting good things from him this season.”

Senior transfer student Justin Harr will also be a key contributor on the mound for CSUEB this season. Harr attended Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill before going to Cal State Los Angeles, who is in the same conference as the Pioneers, the CCAA.

Coach Ralston is hopeful that his experience and familiarity with opponents will help guide a youthful pitching staff.

Despite the setbacks the Pioneers continue to make strides, led by seniors Kelly Starnes and Jason Fletcher, both named to the NCAA Division II All-West Region Team last year and Starnes just picked up a new award this preseason.

On Friday Starnes was named an NCAA Division II preseason All-West Region First Team selection by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
“It’s cool to be recognized but this is a team game,” Starnes said. “We need to get better at handling the teams we know we should beat. Those losses add up and we don’t want to miss the playoffs again.”

The Pioneers landed another prized prospect with incoming freshman infielder from Manteca, Dakota Conners.

After he completed his senior season at Sierra High School, Conners received the 2014 Rawlings Gold Glove Award for his defensive statistics in the infield. Conners compiled a .970 fielding percentage at shortstop and committed just three errors in the season while batting .382.

“Conners is definitely going to battle for a starting role on this squad,” Fletcher said. “He is one of the smoothest fielding freshman I have ever seen here and he is very impressive.”

The NCBWA ranked CSUEB number ten in the new preseason NCAA Division II west region rankings of the top ten teams in the region. Last year’s west region champion, Chico State was ranked number one in the poll and received four of six first place votes.

Conference foe UC San Diego received the other two first place votes and came in at number two in the preseason poll.

With a solid group of returning veterans and some key incoming newcomers, the Pioneers are hopeful that the postseason will be in their future this season.
“We were so close last year to making the playoffs and it practically came down to the last weekend,” Fletcher said. “We want to make the playoffs.”

The first action of the season for the Pioneers is a doubleheader at 11 a.m. on Feb. 6 against Northwest Nazarene University. This will also be the first game of the season for the Crusaders who finished last season 18-31 overall and 13-19 in conference games.

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